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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1256


Ms GRIERSON (Newcastle) (19:15): I would like to take the opportunity in this adjournment debate to continue some comments I was making on the tabling of a report of the parliamentary delegation last year to the UK and Poland. I had time to discuss the UK experience and relationship but I certainly did not have enough time to do justice to the experiences in Poland.

Poland is a fascinating country. It is reaching out strongly to Australia. It wants an improved relationship with Australia. It looks at Australia, praises our economic management through the global financial crisis, considers us a small country that has a significant role to play on the international stage. It sees Australia as having influence. Poland sees itself as being very similar to Australia.

Poland joined the European Union in 2004, and it is the sixth largest country by population in the European Union, but it did not ever join the economic zone. It has had a particularly successful economic experience. We were fortunate to meet with members of their equivalent of the Reserve Bank—their national bank—and speak to them about their economy. Poland's banking sector is reasonably young, only beginning in the late 1980s. It certainly experienced early crises but it escaped the global financial crisis, partly because it was not part of the economic zone just yet. That meant that Poland's currency, the zloty, depreciated after the financial crisis, which kept their export sector internationally competitive.

Poland has shown great economic resilience. By constitution only six per cent of their GDP can be debt. Australia has one of the lowest debt ratios—I think it is still about 25 per cent—but Poland has a dictated six per cent maximum. It is also a country reaching out in trade. It was a founding member for the World Trade Organisation in 1995. I must say that trade was one of the most interesting areas that we experienced. Our ambassador, Ambassador Dunn, has a trade background and I could see the work she was doing in embracing opportunities for our country and for Poland. In my own electorate two Polish companies now own Inbye Mining Services and Waratah Engineering. It was wonderful for us to see our economic relationship growing.

In the delegation we were very fortunate that many cultural and heritage opportunities were put our way. We started off in Krakow. That was an experience in itself, but going to Auschwitz and Birkenau was truly amazing. We went there with the member for Melbourne Ports and his wife, who are of the Jewish faith and that was a very moving experience. It certainly reminded me how blessed we are in this nation. We are blessed to have sectarian and racial harmony and to have a country full of peace. We went to the old villages and the old cities of Krakow and Warsaw and to the Warsaw Jewish museum. I would almost say to every MP: 'Please go. It puts our lives and our plight into context.'

We saw the World Heritage salt mines and we saw how ordinary working people spend some time carving magnificent masterpieces. It is a tribute to working people. Poland has a working history and a union history that it is very proud of. In fact, the President was recognised for his work in that movement by the Polish people.

When we were at Auschwitz it was interesting to hear the guide—a guide who does that trip over and over again—and to sense his anger. I spoke to him afterwards and I said, 'You are so angry about this, still.' He said, 'Yes, because of business exploitation of that situation,' because he knew that people made an industry selling off the clothing and that there were industries based on the chemicals for the poisons that were used at Auschwitz. The hair of dead people was used to weave into carpets. It was quite horrific. But I am very grateful to have been part of the delegation. I thank all of the staff involved, and Tim Bryant, Meredith Horne, President Hogg and fellow delegates. (Time expired)